By Daniel Lichman
It seems from reading Bereishit/Genesis there is nothing God loves as much as a good brit. I don’t mean a circumcision but a “brit”, a covenant. As we read through Bereishit, God makes successive covenants with Adam, Noah and then Abraham.
Each covenant is increasingly committed, detailed and specific. This pattern continues through the Torah with a covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. What does “brit” mean? Why is this the way that God manifests God-self in the world?
A hint of an answer occurred to me from the business world, where the ‘Psychological Contract’ theory is concerned with the mutual expectations between employees and employers in an organisation. Written employment contracts are not enough to express the complex network of expectations and obligations within the employer-employee relationship.
Alongside stated obligations, employees also have other expectations – simple things like being greeted in the morning, being recognised and respected for our work. When these things are unfulfilled, it can make us confused, angry or upset.
By naming this inevitable and legitimate web of expectations the ‘Psychological Contract’, they can be discussed and both sides can be more aware of fulfilling them.
A vocabulary for discussion is fundamental to this. And this is what these ‘britot’ of the Torah are – a vocabulary and reference point for discussion of the relationship between God and the Jewish people.
This is most explicit in the Shema, where we reconfirm the covenant with God. In the first paragraph, we state what we will do for God, in the second we cover what God agrees to do for us and then in the third paragraph we acknowledge the agreement through the sign of the tzitzit.
Thus, each time we say the Shema we not only acknowledge our ancestors’ historic covenant, we also remind ourselves of the stages of covenant itself: how to enter into and maintain healthy, well-functioning and nurturing relationships in our work and personal lives.
• Daniel Lichman is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College